For instance, we know how to translate the hieroglyphics because of the Rosetta Stone. I'm aware that Old English is far more similar to known languages than the hieroglyphics, but looking at the original text of Beowulf I still don't see a single word I can make sense of. How did they learn to translate Old English accurately?

  • 3
    It's not that hard. When I was 13 years old and had been living in Austria for a year my father handed me the Battle of Brunanburh, and between obvious cognates and my limited knowledge of Early Modern English and my even more limited knowledge of German I was able to puzzle out about a third of it, and to fill in another third by inference. Scholars starting from even more knowledge have been working on OE since the 16th century. Mar 24, 2016 at 19:06
  • This question has been voted as being too broad, maybe the OP could edit it. Mar 25, 2016 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


Loads of Anglo-Saxon documents survive, such as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Coupled with the fact that Old English is a West Germanic language sharing many cognates with other languages in Europe, translation is fairly easy and affords one the luxury of speculating about the pronunciation as well. One can also look to irregularities in modern English for clues as to how Old English was structured, as seen for example in the irregular plural form of loaf --> loaves.

With regards to reading Beowulf, knowing a modern Germanic language would help you greatly, such as Dutch. Alternatively, try reading the text out loud.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.